It's no surprise that veterinary clients take up more time than the animals we treat. Here are a few who were worth it.
Clients often are the topic of conversation among veterinarians and team members, both inside and outside the clinic. Most of the time these conversations revolve around people who made us laugh because they were funny or because they were plain idiots, or people who made us furious because they were overly demanding or, again, because they were idiots. Unfortunately, the people who often get left out of these conversations are those who deserve to be in them—clients who display deep devotion and compassion for their animals and respect for the veterinarians' efforts to heal. The following are a couple of the many who deserve recognition, with tales that will hopefully spark kind thoughts and fond memories of your own clients.
Angel was a miniature horse that arrived at the clinic for colic surgery with her owner, Sara. Sara was a college student who in her free time used Angel as a therapy pony for children with major disabilities. During the surgery Sara regaled us with stories of kids who wouldn't interact with any species, human or otherwise, until Angel entered the picture.
The next morning Sara arrived at the clinic with her grandfather, who had driven the six hours from Dallas to support his granddaughter. He was a well-educated, lucid man, with a faint accent resulting from his French origin and lifetime spent in Australia. Sara had to go back to school, but Grandpa stayed with us an entire week at the clinic. Every couple of hours he would take Angel out to graze and walk, regardless of the summer temperatures or time of day. He would stop to chat and inform us of Angel's behavior, asking intelligent questions in his quiet and kind voice, but always at appropriate times and never in an obnoxious manner. He also made a point of visiting with other clients bringing in critical cases and kept track of how everyone was getting along. One evening Grandpa exclaimed that the "best part of getting old was helping his grandchildren" and that anyone who went out of their way to help others like Sara was doing deserved to be supported as best as possible. He said that he appreciated all we were doing, but that if he could help Angel get well by providing attention throughout the day then he would stay as long as it took. While he enriched Angel's life so that she could go back to enriching the lives of others, Grandpa also enriched ours while we worked around him through the days.
Marcus was a thoroughbred eventing horse that was also referred for colic surgery. With too much small intestine involved to resect but tissue that wasn't nonviable enough to euthanize, we closed him up and recovered him, although a grim prognosis was given. Our client Sarah and her daughter Olivia, the seventeen-year-old owner, were emotional yet determined. Over the next three weeks they showed up without fail every morning at nine and stayed until six in the evening. Lawn chairs were popped open in front of the stall or pasture, Marcus was meticulously groomed and loved on and there was always a bowl of sweet and salty goodies for us.
The most striking thing about it all was that Olivia arrived petrified of blood and pain. Over the ensuing days she became my go-to helper, holding Marcus steady for his new catheters and blood draws, twitching him while we refluxed, faithfully syringing Well-Gel and Bio-sponge, and overcoming her fears for the good of her horse, trusting that we were doing what was best. Tears often welled in all of our eyes as Marcus went on a roller coaster of good and bad days, fighting with us as we fought to help him. Ultimately, Marcus succumbed to the fate we were afraid of, but not without creating a strong bond between Sarah and Olivia and all of us at the clinic.
Being a veterinarian is not a career but a lifestyle. The hours are not set, the outcomes are rarely certain and maintaining the line between investing too much emotion or not enough can prove difficult. Angel and Grandpa, the Sara(h)s, Marcus and Olivia represent those who make our lifestyle as veterinarians worth it at the end of the day. They make the triumphs sweeter, the losses more painful, and they are, without a doubt, worth talking about.
Dr. Bo Brock owns Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas.